The Hart of the Matter: Homophobic comments and sexist ideals are intertwined

Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the Parkland shooting and one of the faces of the current movement for gun control, has been under attack by many who oppose her values. While this is normal for someone leading a wave of change, some politicians, such as Leslie Gibson, have crossed a line in their criticisms.

Gibson, a GOP candidate for the Maine state House, called Gonzalez a “skinhead lesbian,” according to the New York Times. He has since withdrawn from the race, but his comment is an example of the way sexuality is used to insult and invalidate powerful women.

Often, when a woman steps into a leadership position, men have trouble taking orders from her. We are socialized to see men as leaders and women as followers. When a woman exhibits the qualities of a leader, she is often labeled as bossy and overbearing, while a man would be considered ambitious and confident for the same actions.

While I speak from experience, this has also been proven by countless studies. A comprehensive report by the American Psychological Association states that men are perceived as more effective leaders than women and rate themselves higher than women tend to, while in specific examinations of leadership skills such as organization and encouragement, women scored higher.

Gonzalez, in leading a nationwide movement against gun violence, is obviously a leader. She is in a position that is perceived to be for masculine people, and has since been called genderless or gay simply for exhibiting strong qualities.

Calling her a lesbian was an obvious attempt at an insult, rooted in the way society perceives leaders. When Gibson made the statement and others echoed it, the intent was to shame Gonzalez. That being said, the comment wasn’t false. Gonzalez is openly bisexual, and often speaks about how gay activism is linked to her work against guns. It is not an insult; it is who she is.

Still, despite the fact that Gonzalez is openly part of the LGBT community, the term “lesbian” was used with the intent to discredit her. In using the word as an insult, Gibson implied that Gonzalez should be respected less because of her lack of heterosexuality.

An obvious answer as to why “lesbian” is used as an insult is homophobia, which leads people to see those of the LGBT community as lesser. But sexism and homophobia are deeply linked.

A woman’s worth is often linked to her ability to attract men, which is why women are taught to value appearance. Attractiveness goes beyond physicality; it has to do with what a woman says and does. Women are taught to be friendly and accommodating, and above all, non-threatening. This is why so many young girls have heard the phrase “you’ll never get a man talking like that” when speaking about feminism or something bold that potentially will intimidate men.

If a woman does not care for the attraction of men, men lose that power over women. The notion that has silenced women for so long is invalidated, as a woman is beyond what she is taught defines her worth. In addition, since she is not fulfilling her supposed duty of being the object of attraction, she is therefore seen as inferior.

The example of Gonzalez is one of countless others; women are devalued with attacks to their sexuality regularly. It comes from a place of systemic sexism that taught them to value gay women less. Women are powerful, no matter who they are attracted to, and society should catch up to this fact.